Life as we know it has stopped.
When my daughter received notice that her summer abroad trip to Taiwan was canceled, she was devastated. She is minoring in Chinese and worked so hard to be chosen for the program. Her story is similar to so many of your stories so she doesn’t have a monopoly on disappointment.
Nuptials have been canceled. Seniors in high school and college were robbed of milestone memories. A walk across the graduation stage has been replaced by a shuffle to the kitchen to break up the monotony of being confined. Performance stages all over the nation are dark and arenas are empty. Literally everything that means something to someone has been placed just out of reach.
I was calling it our “new normal” but I’ve stopped using that phrase because this is not a permanent change in our lives. If everyone cooperates, we will emerge on the other side of this and hopefully, we will have a new appreciation for what we once considered mundane. It turns out that as much as we complain about having to show up somewhere, we failed to see the freedom that comes with getting to show up. We are social animals and when we are forced to apply distance, we don’t respond very well.
It has never been more apparent as we drive through our bustling cities to see empty streets and closed businesses. On normal days, we complain about the crowds and the lines but these days, we yearn for those small annoyances because it means we are living our lives and doing the things that bring us happiness. I didn’t realize how much sitting in a restaurant with friends and laughing was part of my mental wellness. In our police department, we congregate in meetings and roll-call and what I once considered obligatory, are now things I miss simply because of the social component that goes along with conducting business.
When I’m confronted with challenges either personal or professional, I try to ask myself, “What is this trying to teach me?” When we can learn to apply lessons to our struggles, it often provides a much-needed perspective. This pandemic is no different. What is this trying to teach all of us?
My favorite book is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read it over 20 times but never has the message been more relevant to our current plight. His book taught me that everything can be taken from each of us except one thing — the freedom to choose our response in any situation.
Frankl was a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp and his book chronicles his experiences and lessons of survival. When other prisoners were giving up on life, Frankl learned that he could control his mental health despite not being in control of his surroundings. Even when people were dying, he chose to search for meaning in suffering. You don’t have to be a prisoner in a concentration camp to understand the parallels of those fighting this virus or suffering from losing someone who has succumbed to it.
How do we attempt to find meaning in a pandemic that we convinced ourselves was only possible in cinema? I don’t think we have reached Frankl’s level of enlightenment, but perhaps we shift our focus on doing so.
Maybe the lesson is that we are all interconnected and what affects one of us, affects all of us. Our actions matter. Reckless behavior by one of us could cause illness or death to someone we love.
We understand interconnection when it comes to kindness. “Spread that stuff everywhere” is a mantra we all comprehend. Perchance what we need to take away from this is that the “germs” we pass along to one another aren’t only in the form of infectious disease. The other ways we infect one another manifest in violence in the streets in the form of anger and hatred. And it spreads more hatred and kills more people. I wonder if a virus can teach us that human transference is more powerful than we ever imagined.
Wash your hands.